Atlanta Journal Constitution - Compassion at the Core of Guest Worker Reform

Date: Dec. 16, 2005
Location: Atlanta, GA
Issues: Immigration

Atlanta Journal Constitution - Compassion at the Core of Guest Worker Reform

By SAXBY CHAMBLISS Published on: 12/16/05 Atlanta Journal Constitution

The best way to show compassion for illegal immigrants is to stop illegal immigration. Laws must be practical to enforce and to abide by, in order to bring more employers and temporary workers under the protections and requirements of the law. Strict enforcement of our immigration laws is essential and we should demand no less.

I have four principles in working for a fair and practical solution:

• Prevention by strict enforcement of immigration laws;

• Protection against exploitation from sub-standard wages or the displacement of American jobs;

• Accountability of employers who flout the laws;

• Compassion for workers who come to the United States for temporary agricultural jobs. Those aims are in my "Agricultural Employment and Workforce Protection Act."

But first, if we do not stem the tide of illegal immigrants coming into our country, then there is no point in Congress attempting to have a positive impact on our immigration policy. Under my legislation, the Department of Homeland Security would be required to have Congress' approval for a comprehensive plan of increased border security and stricter enforcement of our nation's immigration laws. Until the detailed strategies, timelines and estimated costs are approved, interim border measures would be enforced.

The core of my bill is reform of the temporary farmworker program.

Some agricultural occupations, such as Georgia's poultry and dairy producers, do not follow seasons but require workers year-round. If these employers in occupations previously excluded from the H-2A guest worker program were offered a viable alternative to an illegal work force, I have no doubt they would seize the opportunity.

Many farms located close to the Canadian and Mexican borders seek to employ "day workers," who prefer to live in their home countries. My legislation allows them to enter if they have tamper-proof documentation, but they must exit the United States each day.

Finally, my legislation establishes a blue card program to transition from undocumented status under strict conditions: no felony or misdemeanor convictions in the United States; 1,600 hours of farm work experience in 2005; a background review; and the official petition of their U.S. employer, who can hire them for no longer than 24 months before they must return to their home country.

There is no amnesty with the blue card program — all workers must return to their home country.

For any guest worker program, but explicitly in mine, U.S. employers will not be allowed to use guest workers until they have actively recruited to hire American workers. We don't want to stifle American businesses, but more importantly, we don't want to disadvantage American workers.

Saxby Chambliss, a Republican, is Georgia's senior U.S. senator and chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

This column is solicited to provide another viewpoint to an AJC editorial published today.